Local merchant’s travails



Shita Yenenh is beginning to wonder if it’s worth it. Since April last year, she has been sole operator of Zagol Ethiopian Cuisine at Wells and Fourth streets. The restaurant opened in 2007 with several owners, Yenenh among them.

“They want to change the location for the better,” she said about the city’s efforts to revitalize Fourth Street. “I am here to do that.”

But her wrangles with official agencies are wearing her out. It started before she opened the place. When she was getting the space ready to open, the contractor told her the city required a grease trap. She didn’t argue, though she says Ethiopian food does not have grease in it, and ponied up $25,000 for a “750 gallon grease interceptor.” That expenditure, like all others associated with opening the restaurant, was paid for in cash generated by a second mortgage on her home. “I took so much out of my house” to get the business going, she said.

To add to her discontent over that expensive device, she must pay almost $200 every year for a city inspection of it. So far, she said, the grease trap has yet to produce any grease for the inspectors. “They never take out a cup,” she said. Reno environmental control supervisor Ryan Bird said he couldn’t speak to the particulars of Zagol, but he has never seen a restaurant that doesn’t produce grease. “Anything is possible, but a restaurant that prepares food, washes dishes, and does all the other things normally produces grease,” he said. The Reno Municipal Code section, 12.16.565, that covers the required grease traps does not distinguish between restaurants that use grease and those that don’t. Given the nature of U.S. food, it is likely no one envisioned a greaseless restaurant when the section was written.

The lack of grease in an Ethiopian kitchen also leads to Yenenh’s displeasure over twice-a-year, 23-point, $299-a-pop kitchen inspections that have been described to her as fire inspections.

Then the letter from the state arrived, imposing a $1,000 fine on her for not carrying workers’ injury insurance. She says she has never been without the insurance, and the attorney she used was supposed to have informed the state.

Yehenh said these kinds of nuisances are proving to be a drag on the business. Money used on them can’t be used on other purposes—expansion or advertising, say. And time spent on them can’t be spent on the business.

“Instead of helping us so we can grow and hire more people they just pound us so I don’t go anywhere,” she said. Her business has become popular among upscale residents who normally don’t frequent the area.

The dispute also says something about priorities in Nevada. During the 2008 scandal over patients who contracted hepatitis at a medical clinic in Clark County, it was reported that such clinics are inspected only every three years—and the particular clinic at issue had not been inspected in seven years. But the grease traps get inspected annually.